The Loire Valley, part of the larger Centre region of France, is located in the middle stretch of the Loire River. It is referred to as the Cradle of the French and the Garden of France because of the many vineyards, fruit orchards, and vegetable fields, which line the banks of the river. The Loire Valley has been inhabited since the Middle Paleolithic period, so it has many notable historic towns, architecture, and wines. The central part of the Loire Valley is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Sights. This area is a great location if you are looking for French splendor, style, and cuisine. The Loire Valley was once of great strategic importance between the north and south of France, so there are many amazing castles and towers in the area. The Valley is best known for its outstanding wines and its lively, sophisticated cities. The area in general has a pleasant or laid back feel, and has been called a bit of a story-book wonderland. It is definitely a must see if you're planning a trip to France.
Chateaux of the Loire Valley, France
France is full of grand castles, and the Loire Valley contains some of the best. One in particular that is definitely a must in the Loire Valley is the Chateau of Chambord. It is in a magnificent location on the banks of the Loire River and is listed as one of UNESCO's must visit sites. The estate was created in the early 16th century for King Francis I who spared no expense. Francis even had the Loire River diverted to enhance the effect of the chateau. The building was constructed on a scale of immense proportions with turreted towers, vaulted ceilings, 440 rooms, and a gigantic double staircase at the entry hall.
Another site well worth a stop is the Notre Dame Cathedral. Also listed among UNESCO's World Heritage Sights, the Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the most stunning examples of French architecture. Standing in the center of town, the 12th-13th-century cathedral is one of the finest and best-preserved Gothic buildings in France. The cathedral is most renowned for its marvelous abundance of medieval stained-glass windows, most of which date from 1210 to 1260, which is an exceptional rarity.
The Loire Valley is a big area, so there are many neighborhoods and towns worth checking out, but to mention a few:
Alee Sainte-Catherine is a Historic District that makes you feel like you've stepped back in time to the 14th Century. With its time-burnished streets, a distinct medieval chapel, the Fontevraud park, it really makes the atmosphere of Historic France a tangible experience.
Place Plumereau is another area well worth a visit. It is a medieval quarter or plaza with quaint streets, wood-beam houses and grand mansions from the 15th century. The buildings in this quarter have become postcard staples and the pedestrian streets, cafes and shops there make it a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.
The number of castles, cathedrals, and other historical architecture available to tour is almost unending. But if you are looking for something a little different to pass your time, maybe a wine tasting tour is right for you. There are many in the area to choose from, and this area features some of the best wine France has to offer.
For some other activities, try cycling through some of the beautiful landscape of the Loire Valley, or going canoeing or kayaking in the Loire River. Experience some of the excellent markets, or even go visit some animals at the zoo.
Food and Dining
With its fabulous agriculture, there are many great cuisine choices in the Loire Valley. Here are some ideas for specific foods or dishes to watch for: Cheese, the cheese here is incredible and comes in many shapes, sizes and textures, Sables, which are a biscuit or cookie type dessert with a lemon flavoring, tarte tatin, another dessert, which is a sort of upside down tart, and almond trout, which is a great local fish dish.
There are many restaurants in the area worth checking out, but to give you a few ideas, try: Cafe de la Promenade, which serves some great home cooking, Casse-Caillouz, which serves innovative and contemporary French cuisine, or Auberge du Cheval Rouge for traditional French dining.
The closest major airport to the Loire Valley area is the Paris airport. From there, you will be able to get into the Loire valley by train. There is some public transportation available that connects some of the bigger cities in the Loire Valley, but the best way to get around and see it all is with a rental car.